In California, an aggressive mandatory vaccination bill that passed the State Assembly is now headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. If the bill passes, it would make California the third state in the country to enact such a measure, which will require all incoming public school kindergarteners to have full schedule vaccines, regardless of their parents’ personal, religious, or philosophical objections.
The fervor for mandatory vaccinations was fueled in large part by a measles outbreak that sprouted at Disneyland last December. The outbreak was hardly an epidemic, though, affecting just 131 people and fully contained within just a few months. A significant portion of the sick were unvaccinated against measles, and lawmakers and lobbyists supporting mandatory vaccinations have used that fact to insist every single child should be fully vaccinated in order to protect herd immunity.
The California Senate passed the bill last month in a 25-10 vote. The bill went on to the Assembly, where it underwent review by the committee. The Assembly approved the bill 46-30 on June 25, 2015.
Right now, there are just 13,500 kindergarteners with religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions on record in California’s public schools. According to the California Department of Education, there were 506,831 kindergarteners enrolled for the 2013-14 school year. These figures illustrate around 3 percent of kindergarteners’ families seek vaccine exemptions.
Parents opposed to the bill are not necessarily looking to opt-out of vaccines entirely though. Rather, the question on the table is whether the state has the right to make medical decisions on parents’ behalf, rather than protecting rights of the individual and the family to choose when, how, and how much to vaccinate their children.
If Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, and it is expected he will, current grade schoolers will not be forced onto a vaccination schedule until they reach the seventh grade. However, all new kindergarteners will be required to have all of the vaccines deemed necessary by the California State Department of Public Health. The law would not allow for any alternative or delayed vaccination schedules, except in the instance where a doctor provides a medical exemption. Exemptions like that would be rare, and would likely only apply to children in temporary situations, like those recovering from cancer treatments or other immune-suppressing conditions that make new vaccinations undesirable. The latest version of the bill includes a measure for doctors to factor in family history when considering a medical exemption, but that addition doesn’t offer much solace to those opposed to the bill on principle.
Supporters of the mandatory vaccines argue those parents can home school their children, but that is not an option available to every family, for a wide variety of reasons. Poor and single-parent families would be unlikely to successfully home school, and many families would not choose to home school because they believe public school is a better academic and social development option. If the bill becomes law, parents in California will no longer have the right to do what they believe is best for their child’s health. The state of California will simply tell them what to do.